Wife Anna Snyder, Fania Marinoff

Queer Places:
Washington High School, 2205 Forest Dr SE, Cedar Rapids, IA 52403, Stati Uniti
University of Chicago, 5801 S Ellis Ave, Chicago, IL 60637, Stati Uniti
39 W 39th St, New York, NY 10018, Stati Uniti
Gramercy Park Apartments, 151 E 19th St, New York, NY 10003, Stati Uniti
150 W 55th St, New York, NY 10019, Stati Uniti
101 Central Park West, New York, NY 10023, Stati Uniti
Shakespeare Garden, 14 E 60th St, New York, NY 10022, Stati Uniti

Carl Van Vechten (June 17, 1880 – December 21, 1964) was an American writer and artistic photographer who was a patron of the Harlem Renaissance and the literary executor of Gertrude Stein.[1] One of the most unusual aspects of the Stettheimers’ salon was the large number of their gay, bisexual, and lesbian friends and acquaintances, who were comfortable being their authentic selves among their straight friends. Several of the sisters’ closest friends, including Charles Demuth, Marsden Hartley, Henry McBride, Virgil Thomson, and Baron Adolph de Meyer (married to a lesbian, Olga Carracciolo) were homosexual; Carl Van Vechten, Cecil Beaton, and Georgia O’Keeffe were bisexual; Natalie Barney and Romaine Brooks were lesbians; and Alfred Stieglitz, Marcel Duchamp, Gaston Lachaise, Marie Sterner, and Leo Stein were heterosexual. This open, natural mix of friends with different sexual preferences continued when Stettheimer held salons in her studio in the Beaux Arts building in midtown Manhattan, although later in life she also had parties where most of the guests were strong feminist women.

Once, when interviewed, Richmond Barthé indicated that he was homosexual. Throughout his life, he had occasional romantic relationships that were short-lived.[37] In an undated letter to Alain Locke, he indicated that he desired a long-term relationship with a "Negro friend and a lover". The book Barthé: A Life in Sculpture by Margaret Rose Vandryes links Barthé to writer Lyle Saxon, to African American art critic Alain Locke, young sculptor John Rhoden, and the photographer Carl Van Vechten. According to a letter from Alain Locke to Richard Bruce Nugent, Barthé had a romantic relationship with Nugent, a cast member from the production of Porgy & Bess.[38]

Born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he was the youngest child of Charles and Ada Van Vechten.[2]:14 Both of his parents were well educated. His father was a wealthy and prominent banker. His mother established the Cedar Rapids public library and was musically talented.[3] As a child, Van Vechten developed a passion for music and theatre.[4] He graduated from Washington High School in 1898.[5] After High School, Van Vechten was eager to take the next steps in his life, but found it difficult to pursue his passions in Iowa. He described his hometown as “that unloved town”. In order to advance his education, he decided in 1899 to study at the University of Chicago.[6][7] At the University of Chicago, he studied a variety of topics including music, art and opera. As a student, he became increasingly interested in writing and wrote for the college newspaper “University of Chicago Weekly”. After graduating from college in 1903, Van Vechten accepted a job as a columnist for the Chicago American. In his column “The Chaperone” Van Vechten covered many different topics through a style of semi autobiographical gossip and criticism.[8] During his time with the Chicago American, he was occasionally asked to include photographs with his column. This was the first time he was thought to have experimented with photography which would later become one of his greatest passions.[9] Van Vechten was fired from his position with the Chicago American because of what was described as an elaborate and complicated style of writing. Some described his contributions to the paper as "lowering the tone of the Hearst papers”.[10] In 1906, he moved to New York City. He was hired as the assistant music critic at The New York Times.[11] His interest in opera had him take a leave of absence from the paper in 1907, so as to travel to Europe to explore opera.[1]

Carl Van Vechten by Mina Loy, 1913

Carl Van Vechten with wife, Fania Marinoff, 1922

Carl Van Vechten, by Romaine Brooks, 1936

Florine Stettheimer : Carl van Vechten 1922 | Etsy
Carl Van Vechten by Florine Stettheimer

Langston Hughes shows Carl Van Vechten his new book for children, The First Book of Negroes, 1952

150 West 55th Street

39 W 39th St, New York, NY 10018, Stati Uniti

While in England he married his long-time friend from Cedar Rapids, Anna Snyder. He returned to his job at The New York Times in 1909, where he became the first American critic of modern dance. Under the leadership of Van Vechten's social mentor, Mabel Dodge Luhan he became engrossed in avant-garde art. This was an innovative type of art which explores new styles or subject matters and is thought to be well ahead of other art in terms of technique, subject matter and application. He also began to frequently attend groundbreaking musical premieres at the time, Isadora Duncan, Anna Pavlova, and Loie Fuller were performing in New York City. He also attended premiers in Paris where he met American author and poet Gertrude Stein in 1913 .[12] He became a devoted friend and champion of Stein. He was considered to be one of Steins most enthusiastic fans.[13]They continued corresponding for the remainder of Stein's life, and at her death she appointed Van Vechten her literary executor; he helped to bring into print her unpublished writings.[2]:306 A collection of the letters between Van Vechten and Stein has also been published.[14]

Van Vechetn wrote a piece called “How to Read Gertrude Stein” for the arts magazine The Trend. In his piece Van Vechten attempted to demystify Gertrude Stein and bring clarity to her works. In his piece Van Vechten came to the conclusion that Gertrude Stein is a difficult author to understand and she can be best understood when one has been guided through her work by an "expert insider". He writes that “special writers require special readers”.[15]

The marriage to Anna Snyder ended in divorce in 1912 and he wed actress Fania Marinoff in 1914.[16] Van Vechten and Marinoff were known for ignoring the social separation of races during the times and for inviting blacks to their home for social gatherings. They were also known to attend public gatherings for black people and even on occasion visit black friends in their homes.

Although Van Vechten's marriage to his wife Fania Marinoff, lasted for 50 years, there were often arguments between them over Van Vechten's affairs with men.[17] Van Vechten was known to have romantic and sexual relationships with men, especially Mark Lutz.[11]

Mark Lutz (1901–1968) was born in Richmond, Virginia and was introduced to Van Vechten by Hunter Stagg in New York in 1931. Lutz was a model for some of Van Vechten's earliest experiments with photography. The friendship lasted until Van Vechten's death. At Lutz's death, as per his wishes, the correspondence with Van Vechten, amounting to 10,000 letters, was destroyed. Lutz donated his collection of Van Vechten's photographs to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.[18]

Several books of Van Vechten's essays on various subjects such as music and literature were published between 1915 and 1920 and Vechten would also serve as an informal scout for the newly formed Alfred A. Knopf.[19] Between 1922 and 1930 Knopf published seven novels by him, starting with Peter Whiffle: His Life and Works and ending with Parties.[20] His sexuality is most clearly reflected in his intensely homoerotic portraits of working class men.

As an appreciator of the arts, Van Vechten was extremely intrigued by the explosion of creativity which was occurring in Harlem. He was drawn towards the tolerance of Harlem society and its draw towards black writers and artists. He also felt most accepted there as a gay man.[21] Van Vechten promoted many of the major figures of the Harlem Renaissance, including Paul Robeson, Langston Hughes, Ethel Waters, Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston and Wallace Thurman. Van Vechten's controversial novel Nigger Heaven[6] was published in 1926. His essay "Negro Blues Singers" was published in Vanity Fair in 1926. Biographer Edward White suggests Van Vechten was convinced that Negro culture was the essence of America.[2]

Van Vechten played a critical role in the Harlem Renaissance and helped to bring greater clarity to the African American movement. However for a long time he was also seen as a very controversial figure. In Van Vechten's early writings he claimed that Black people were born to be entertainers and sexually “free”. In other words he believed that black people should be free to explore their sexuality and singers should follow their natural talents such as jazz, spirituals and blues.[22]

In Harlem Van Vechten often attended opera and cabarets. He was credited for the surge in white interest in Harlem nightlife and culture. He was also involved in helping well respected writers like Langston Hughes and Nella Larsen find publishers for their first works.[23]

In 2001, Emily Bernard published “Remember Me to Harlem”. This was a collection of letters which documented the long friendship between Van Vechten and Langston Hughes, who publicly defended Nigger Heaven, and enjoyed Van Vechten’s mischievous sense of humor.[24] Bernard’s book Carl Van Vechten and the Harlem Renaissance: A Portrait in Black and White explorers the messy and uncomfortable realities of race, and the complicated tangle of black and white in America.[25]

His older brother Ralph Van Vechten died on June 28, 1927; when Ralph's widow Fannie died in 1928, Van Vechten inherited $1 million invested in a trust fund, which was unaffected by the stock market crash of 1929 and provided financial support for Carl and Fania.[2]:242–244[26]

By the start of the 1930s and at age 50, Van Vechten was finished with writing and took up photography, using his apartment at 150 West 55th Street as a studio, where he photographed many notable persons.[27][28]

After the 1930s Van Vechten published little writing, though he continued writing letters to many correspondents.

Van Vechten died in 1964, at the age of 84, in New York City. His ashes were scattered over Shakespeare Gardens, Central Park, Manhattan, New York[29] He was the subject of a 1968 biography by Bruce Kellner, Carl Van Vechten and the Irreverent Decades,[30] as well as Edward White's 2014 biography, The Tastemaker: Carl Van Vechten and the Birth of Modern America.[2]

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